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Big Bounce, The

Published 1960

The story of the Echo communications satellite project, and how scientists learned to bounce a radio signal off a big balloon. Written by Robert Engel and Leo S. Rosencrans. Narrator: Larry Thor. Producer and Photographer: Jerry Fairbanks. Editor: Richard Fritch, ASC. Production Manager: John McKennon. Assistant Director: Robert Scrivner. Musical Direction: Edward Paul. Original Score: Gene Kauer. Sound: Lawrence Aicholtz. Lighting: Grant Spicer.

Run time 14:23
Producer Fairbanks (Jerry) Productions
Sponsor American Telephone and Telegraph Co. (AT&T), Bell Laboratories
Audio/Visual Sd, C


Tells the story of the communications satellite project Echo, and shows how it was launched and how it operates. The story of Echo II, from the days when bouncing a radio signal off a big balloon was a big deal.

Communication satellites Space program


Reviewer: H_Neilson - - August 15, 2011
Subject: Horn-antenna!
The horn-antenna they feature here to reduce static was used a few years later in the discovery of cosmic microwave background radiation:,_New_Jersey.jpeg

Reviewer: Steve Carras - - November 8, 2010
Subject: McKennon
I wonder if the McKennon here is related to the late Dal McKennon, unfortunately better known as Filmation camp voices but also the voice of Gumby, which like so many other productions of the era shared the same stock music [see Dodsworth's comment below mine.]
Reviewer: Dodsworth the Cat - - May 9, 2010
Subject: Original Score?
Fairbanks loved the Capitol Hi-Q library and despite the claim of an original score, it is used here.

The scene at 8:54 and on uses C-52A Mechanical Underscore, which is used in other Fairbanks movies. It is on Hi-Q reel L-18. There's another "Mechanical" bed during the Bombay sequence, and C-42A is heard at 1:28.
Reviewer: donwert - - February 2, 2010
Subject: The Future Came Fast
This Bell Labs documentary of the Echo Project is interesting. The narrator says that geosynchronous satellite communications is in the "far distant future", yet only 4 years later, the Syncom III satellite was used to broadcast the opening ceremonies of the Tokyo Olympic Games live to the U.S. I don't know how much money was spent on the Echo project, but it's a little difficult to understand why the project was undertaken in the first place since it was perfectly obvious the technology had no practical value and all-electronic geosynchronous
satellites were already being developed. I can actually remember, as a little kid, standing in the backyard to see this balloon satellite pass overhead. It was about as bright as a medium star
and far easier to see than Sputnik had been.
Reviewer: Popeye Doyle - - September 12, 2007
Subject: Advantages
The major advantage of the past is that it seemed to face such a bright future. Oh, those good old days in which mankind was working for the good of mankind, so that eventually, New York could talk to Bombay (note: not the other way round, according to the scheme depicting the stream of communication).
Reviewer: Pleonic - - September 9, 2007
Subject: First Step to the Future
A fascinating film depicting the beginning of something we now take for granted: Satellite Communications. This film shows that the entire system, including geosynchronous satellites, was already planned out in the early 60's, but as the narrator says, that was for the far distant future. Now we live in that distant future, and Echo was the first step. An enormous mylar balloon in orbit, Echo enabled scientists to bounce radio waves off its silvery surface. According to the book Angle of Attack: Harrison Storms and the Race to the Moon, it also provided reference points used by the military to target nuclear missiles on the USSR during the Cold War.

Echo 1 reentered and burned up on May 24, 1968.
Reviewer: 2muchtv - - May 3, 2004
Subject: Keep an eye out
For scenes from this, and many of Fairbanks' other government shorts when you watch one of his Sci-Fi films, like "The Bamboo Saucer." An early partner with Jay Ward (they worked on Crusader Rabbit until Fairbanks went bankrupt and NBC took Ward and his properties as part of the foreclosure) Fairbanks (Jerry) Productions limped along floating between shorts and B movies.
Reviewer: bullymuk - - March 29, 2004
Subject: presenting a view to 'new' technology
This film show in a wonderful way how fast 'sience fiction' could become true. It shows the first attempt to establish a phone call via satellite. Enjoyed showing it to students to look into the past of mass communication.
Reviewer: Christine Hennig - - July 2, 2003
Subject: The Big Bounce
This film, made by Bell Labs, documents the first satellite telephone transmissions, using a satellite balloon named Echo. Considering how ubiquitous satellite communications are today, this is rather quaint to watch. It's pretty straightforward and well-made, with some mstable moments. President Eisenhower's recorded message, back with "America the Beautiful" is schmaltzy as all get-out. Overall the film is a mildly interesting bit of history.
Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: ***. Weirdness: **. Historical Interest: ****. Overall Rating: ***.
Reviewer: Spuzz - - January 18, 2003
Subject: Quite an astounding little picture
The Big Bounce outlines America's first trial run at basically satellite conversations. We follow the trials of the Bell Corperation's first satellite project.
Instead of being boring and scientific mumbo-jumbo like, the film packs a lot of suspense and drama into the film, the narration packs quite a punch and keeps us enthralled about whether the experiment will work or not. Mind you, the acting isn't the greatest from the scientists, but who cares? This is a taut little thriller, and deserves to be watched. Great soundtrack too!
Reviewer: movieman - - September 28, 2002
Subject: Those were the days
I wonder whether, when making this movie, the scientists and film-makers involved had any idea that only a few short decades later I'd be watching their movie from thousands of miles away at a cost of a couple of cents of Internet time, and that, far from just three, there'd be so many geostationary satellites that we'd be having a hard time fitting more into the orbit without risk of collisions. Vital as this 'high-tech' research was in the development of communication technology, it all seems somehow so quaint today...
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